The duty of MPs and peers who support remaining in the EU is to vote against the Bill authorising an Article 50 trigger
Those of us who remain convinced that Britain’s place and future should be in the European Union with our closest friends, partners and allies have a plain duty to continue campaigning against Brexit. That means persuading public and parliamentary opinion, even now, that the referendum’s narrow result was a terrible mistake. Following the judgment of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, the best hope for averting the calamity of Brexit is for parliament to refuse permission for the government to trigger Article 50 by the end of March, or indeed at all. There is no conceivable justification for convinced Remainers in the House of Commons or the House of Lords to vote in favour of the forthcoming government Bill to authorise the A50 trigger. If they do, they will be failing to act in accordance with their best judgement of British interests, which they are elected or appointed to exercise on behalf of the British people. Voting for, or even abstaining on, what you believe to be a disaster for the country is clearly contrary to reason. We all “respect” the referendum result, but that means only that we recognise it as a fact. ‘Respecting’ it can’t possibly mean that we have to agree with it (when we don’t) or feel obliged to support its implementation, any more than ‘respecting’ a Tory election victory requires a Labour opposition to pretend to agree with the Conservatives’ election manifesto or to work to give effect to its policies regardless of its belief that they are reactionary and damaging. That belief obviously imposes a duty on those who hold it to do everything legally possible to persuade public and parliamentary opinion that those policies are wrong and should be changed or reversed. That’s what the Opposition is there to do. Mr Corbyn’s and some other Labour leaders’ inability or unwillingness to understand this and to act accordingly is a national tragedy.
Anyway, the referendum was not a “decision” by the British people, nor “an instruction” to parliament or the government, as Mrs May likes to claim. It was advisory, a snapshot of the opinions of voters in both camps seven months ago. If it had been binding, there’s little doubt that the Act setting it up would have stipulated a majority much greater than 52% to justify such a political, economic, social, legal and diplomatic earthquake as Brexit would entail. The reckless and unconstitutional promises of a few politicians to act to put the result of the referendum into effect, whichever way it went, can’t affect its status either in law or in practice. No referendum result can possibly oblige those who disagreed with the majority of the referendum voters to change their minds or to act in ways that are contrary to their deepest convictions. The idea that if the referendum had gone the other way by an equally small (or any other) majority, the fanatical Brexiteers would have dropped their antipathy to the EU and all its works, and would have “respected” the result in the sense of switching allegiance and working to strengthen Britain’s role in Europe, is obviously for the birds. At least one prominent Brexiteer openly promised to continue to work to get the UK out of the EU even if the referendum went against him. There’s nothing ‘undemocratic’ about seeking to change public and parliamentary opinion in the direction that you believe best serves the country’s interests.
So Labour and other MPs and members of the House of Lords who worked with often passionate conviction for the Remain campaign, in accordance with established Labour policy (never formally reversed), have a clear obligation this week or next to vote against the promised Bill required to authorise the Tory government to trigger A50, which otherwise will be the first and probably irrevocable step in Britain’s self-inflicted expulsion from our continent’s most significant economic, trade and political association. Labour should of course vote Yes to any proposed amendments to the Bill designed to improve the conditions on which we leave if Brexit can’t be stopped. But rejecting the Bill itself, with or without amendments, is essential if we are to avert calamity. Those who know this but still vote for it, or even abstain on it, will violate their consciences and their judgement, and even more unforgivably our country, our interests, and Britain’s place in history. I appeal to all MPs and peers, of any party and none, who recognise that Britain should remain in the EU, to vote No to Article 50. It may be your — and our — last chance.
Note: An earlier version of this post first appeared earlier today in the website LabourList as “This may be our one chance: Labour MPs have a duty to vote against article 50” at http://labourlist.org/2017/01/labour-mps-have-a-duty-to-vote-against-article-50/, where it is already attracting some predictably ferocious comments from the Brexiteers. Thoughtful comments, whether or not dissenting, on the version here will of course be welcome, as always. Abusive comments will be deleted.